Why Your Toddler Doesn't Listen
When my son was 18 months old, I went along with a friend to pick up her child from preschool. Some of the kids were just a year older, but they were listening to the teacher and following directions. When I imagined my child sitting there on that A-B-C carpet, I felt queasy. Follow directions? Him? After all, if I asked him to pour food from a cup into in the dog bowl, he'd be more likely to pile it into his dump truck instead.
Turns out there wasn't anything wrong with my son; experts say that young toddlers still have trouble focusing on what you're saying and following directions. "Toddlers are inherently distractible. They don't have the ability to stick with one thing as long as an older child can. After a couple of minutes, they're off to other adventures," explains psychologist Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City. In other words, it's perfectly natural for your 15-month-old to wander across the room to the bookshelf halfway through the book you're reading aloud. Another reason your toddler may not comply with your requests: She's taking her first steps toward becoming her own person. "A toddler won't always be willing to do what you want because she's flexing her new independence muscle," says Dr. Briggs. "In fact, she may even be tempted to do exactly the opposite of what you ask."
Fortunately, if you practice now your child will be ready to get with the program in preschool. Capitalize on her natural love of playing games with these ability-boosting activities.
Invite a Friendly Puppet Over
A puppet has an allure that can capture a small child's attention fast -- even if the one you're using is just a sock with a drawn-on smile and googly eyes. Using a goofy voice, have the puppet ask your kid to do various things: clap her hands, stamp her feet, and spin around in circles -- or pick her toys up off the floor.
How It Helps Your child might not be willing to put her stuffed animals away when you ask her to do it, but when the lion puppet makes the request, she'll think it's all in good fun. Why exactly? Your child doesn't see it as listening to Mommy anymore, so going with the flow feels like less of a threat to her budding independence, explains Kimberley Clayton Blaine, author of The Go-To Mom's Parents' Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children. "When you introduce a puppet to your toddler, she'll think she's making a friend -- and she'll be more likely to listen to instructions that her new pal gives." Sure, you might feel a bit silly talking through a puppet, but bottom line: You're avoiding a power struggle, and your child is (willingly) learning to follow directions.
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